Andrea Chatten has always found herself rooting for the underdog.
As a teacher for over 25 years in Sheffield, she reveals she was always drawn to kids who were acting out and struggling with behavioural issues.
“I have a soft spot for the ‘naughty kids’,” she admits.
“My pendulum has always just swung that way and I feel a synergy with them, like - if I don’t help them, who will?”
Andrea started her career in the city’s primary schools before making the leap to secondary schools, where she found herself working with children on the path towards permanent exclusion.
“I would talk to them and feel like I was nudging the emotions out of them,” explains the 44-year-old, of Millhouses.
“They weren’t bad kids, but for many of them, it was as if they didn’t understand how to be good. I knew that if I didn’t help them tackle those emotions, it wouldn’t matter how many GCSEs they had, they wouldn’t be able to fully access their lives. I felt like I was doing something really special.”
It was during the course of this work that Andrea decided to enlist some help - dreaming up a magical team of secret agents whose jobs it was to help children struggling under the weight of their emotions.
She called them ‘The Blinks.’
“The concept of The Blinks has been rolling around in my head for years,” says Andrea, who now works as an Emotional & Behavioural Psychologist for Unravel, a consultancy she founded in the city in 2014.
“I imagined them as little beings, carers of young hearts and souls, whose job it was to get to the bottom of what a child was feeling and help them figure out why it made them act the way it did. All the kids I discussed it with really seemed to embrace the idea and The Blinks became a tool for me, helping me reach children and unlock their understanding of their own feelings.”
It would be several years before Andrea attempted to put her characters down on paper.
“I found myself with a small gap of time after I’d finished teaching and as I prepared to start my Masters in Developmental Psychology,” she recalls.
“I sat down and wrote the first book in six weeks. I cried when I finished it; it reminded me of so many of the wonderful kids I had the privilege of working with over the years.”
The first book, which was released last summer, examined ‘worry’ and the negative impact it can have on kids if the emotion becomes too overwhelming. The book follows nine-year-old Mandy who notices that her worrying has started to affect her well-being, friendships, sleep and even her learning. One day, while out wandering around the fictional northern city of Sheffoold, Blink 210504 notices Mandy and takes her issues to the Blink panel, who agree that Mandy needs a special Blink intervention.
Andrea has since followed this up with book two, which focuses on ‘anger’ and was released just before Christmas. She’s currently working on book three, on ‘self esteem’ and is planning to finish off the series with three more, on shyness, sadness and love - all to be released by 2018.
“I’m a Blink,” Andrea says simply.
“I’ve spent my life helping children to sort through what they’re feeling. In my work as a teacher I was only able to help 30 kids a year, but by writing The Blinks series, I feel like I have the chance to project those philosophies out to a wider audience.
“These books help children and their families gain a sound understanding to name and claim their feelings. Research suggests that this act in itself hugely helps the brain feel better, as it reduces the need to turn up the volume of negative feelings in order for you to notice them.
“In my books, The Blinks offer useful things to try so that children can begin to manage feelings more positively.”
The books are illustrated by Andrea’s friend and former colleague Rachel Pesterfield and the books’ publisher is Oodlebooks, in Wakefield, giving the whole brand a really local feel.
And the mum-of-two has been thrilled with the responses she’s received from all over the world.
“The reviews on Amazon have been amazing,” smiles Andrea, who has already been invited to speak about The Blinks at literary events in America and Canada next year.
“I’ve had people sending me letters about their own experiences and messages on Facebook from people saying ‘I’m a Blink!’ which is incredible. I’ve also heard from parents who say they wish these books had been around when they were kids, so I’m thrilled with the way people have embraced these characters.”
Each book also comes with a reference manual for parents, carers and teachers which explains in greater detail the deeper psychology of each issue, and how the techniques of The Blinks works.
Andrea says: “Lots of parents feel empowered by having a better understanding of how emotions can impact on their child’s self-esteem and emotional development. I trained for four years to be a teacher; I got nothing as a parent and parenting is the hardest job in the world. My aim is to create a strong community of Blinks, made up of parents and teachers, who can be there for children. I want to share with parents the stuff it’s taken me 25 years on the job to learn.
“As for the future, my encouraging publisher, Gail at Ooodlebooks, has told me that I could keep writing forever with so many feelings and difficult childhood issues to tackle. I’m deep into ‘self-esteem’ right now, but my literary imagination has only just started - so who knows!”
Visit The Blinks the find out more.